Pilot Lance Larabee romances his co-worker, gets her to buy him a plane
The man was a sympathetic listener. Debbie White and Lance Larabee both worked for Transmeridian Airlines—she was a flight attendant and he was a pilot. One day in July 1999, they were flying as extra crew—passengers—for a flight from Chicago to St. Lucia to Aruba and back to Chicago. White was facing personal difficulties—her son had been in a terrible car accident, and her marriage was faltering. During that long flight, she talked to Larabee about her problems. He listened and offered words of encouragement.
A year later their flight paths crossed again. White was now divorced, and Larabee asked for her phone number. Even though she lived near Chicago, Illinois and he lived 1,700 miles away near Seattle, Washington, they started seeing each other. After awhile, Larabee would stay with White whenever his flights took him to Chicago. But they kept their relationship secret from their co-workers, because neither White nor Larabee wanted to be stars of the company rumor mill.
White’s divorce had been amicable, and she left her marriage with a mortgage-free townhouse and about $250,000 in cash. She knew she should invest the money for her future. But where should she put it? White made an appointment to see a financial planner. Larabee had helped her get a good deal on a new car, so she asked him to accompany her.
The financial planner discussed all the usual options—stocks, bonds, mutual funds. But Larabee had a better idea—they should invest her money in a business. They could offer sightseeing tours, via boat or plane, of the beautiful San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington state. Larabee would be the tour guide. As a pilot he had many days off, days that he could use to ferry passengers around. White wouldn’t have to do anything except make an investment.
By this time, White had visited scenic parts of Washington with Larabee. She fell in love with the dramatic landscape and relaxed lifestyle. The idea of owning a touring business there appealed to her. “My gut feeling was I probably shouldn’t be doing this, but it was all new and exciting,” White says. She and Larabee were close. White believed he was looking out for her interests. She agreed to invest in the new business.
Boat, plane and van
White and Larabee started putting the plan into action. In August 2000, White paid $22,750 for a new 21-foot Bayliner speedboat. Both Larabee and White were the boat’s legal owners. As a precaution, White had a promissory note drawn up in which Larabee promised to pay White for the boat.
In November 2000, White paid for a Cessna 172XP, a four-seat, single-engine airplane. They had the plane equipped with amphibious floats so it could make water landings. The total cost was $110,700. At first both White and Larabee were listed as owners of the plane. But White was concerned about personal liability if something went wrong, so she had the registration changed—Larabee became the owner, and White had a secured interest in the plane.
Now that they had a boat and a plane, they took formal steps to set up the business. They established a corporation called “Adventure Travel Northwest, Inc.” All they needed to get the business going was a way to transport their customers from place to place while on the ground. In December 2000, White paid $8,198 for a used conversion van.
White took responsibility for filing the business’ quarterly tax reports. For four consecutive quarters, starting in April 2001, she submitted forms that showed business income of exactly zero.
“We had a great time”
Larabee had switched jobs. Now he was flying for Haggen’s Inc., a company that owned 32 grocery stores in Washington and Oregon. He worked every day, so he told White he no longer had the free time to operate Adventure Travel Northwest.
The business may have been stalled, but their personal relationship continued. “With my flight benefits, I’d go out to Seattle every four to six weeks, and spend three to seven days,” White says. White noticed, however, that Larabee frequently went off by himself to make phone calls. And often, when they were together, Larabee wouldn’t answer his ringing cell phone.
White enjoyed the time she spent with Larabee. “When I was out there, we had a good time. He made me laugh,” White says. Usually they just hung around the house or the boat, but they also did things that White had never done before. “We took the boat to the San Juan Islands—I can’t describe how beautiful they are. And one time Lance said, ‘Let’s go to Friday Harbor for dinner.’ So we flew over there, had dinner, and flew back.”
After being married for 28 years, White was in no hurry to do it again. But she didn’t want to date around, either. “I wanted to know that we had a commitment, that it was a monogamous and exclusive relationship,” White says. “Lance assured me that it was. He said he loved me.”
Still, White took steps to protect her investment—the money she had given Larabee was supposed to be for her future. In December 2001, Larabee signed a second promissory note for $60,000, which covered the previous note for the speedboat, the boat trailer, and additional money White had given Larabee to pay down his debts. The speedboat was listed as collateral for the note. Larabee made the agreed payments for December, January and February.
Then on February 25, 2002, Larabee signed another promissory note for $110,700 to cover the cost of the Cessna 172. Although Larabee continued to make his payments on the promissory note for the boat, he made no payments on the note for the plane.
In July 2002, Larabee talked White into trading their speedboat in for a 32-foot Bayliner cabin cruiser. With its berth and galley, White could stay on the boat when she visited Seattle. The new boat cost $103,289. After taxes and fees, $96,840 had to be financed, and White signed for the loan. Larabee, however, reimbursed her for the payments, which were $711 per month.
Because he was, in effect, making the boat payments, Larabee stopped making all payments on the promissory notes. According to White, every time she asked Larabee how she was going to get her money back, his response was, “I’m working on it.”
Three years went by. Larabee talked about using the plane to give flying lessons so other pilots could become qualified for water landings. He also talked about getting a partner to share the costs of the plane. This would be much easier, he told White, if the plane didn’t have amphibious floats. Larabee suggested trading it for a Cessna 210, a larger plane that had six seats and retractable landing gear.
To do the deal, White had to sign a release for her interest in the Cessna 172. Then, according to White, Larabee said he would sign a new promissory note and get a $45,000 loan from a leasing company to reimburse her for part of what she paid for the plane. “It all made sense,” White said, “and I was grateful to get some of my money back.”
White says she and Larabee discussed protecting her ownership interest in the new plane, either by putting her name on the title or on another secured interest agreement. “I’ll take care it,” Larabee said, according to White. In August 2005, White signed the release and Larabee traded the airplanes.
But Larabee did not put White’s name on the title or on a secured interest document; he registered the new plane in his name only. Months later, in January 2006, White discovered there was no proof anywhere that she had any right to the plane.